Fake news and the war over information

Everybody seems to be obsessed with the phenomenon of »fake news«.

But this is nothing new. If you have first-hand information, you will find that mainstream media are often wrong.

When I used to work in the European Parliament for the Swedish Pirate Party, we established the principle »right enough«. If a piece of news only had minor errors, we let go and focused on something more important. To try to correct everything journalists get wrong will be much too time-consuming.

A standard phone call from a (non-Brussels based) journalist normally started out with everything between five and 30 minutes of EU for dummies – where we had to explain who does what and how things actually work in this multinational bureaucracy. And in the end, it would to some extent end up incorrect anyway. You can only do so much.

Journalists are not rocket scientists, their insights and knowledge are normally limited, and they have a tight time frame to collect and analyze the facts. They will always get some things wrong.

And, of course, journalists and media organizations are biased – often without being aware of this fact themselves.

However, the context at the moment is not about mainstream media. It’s about the competition.

The political and media elite seems to have a strong aversion towards alternative media. Often new players don’t follow the same set of unwritten rules as journalists who are a part of the establishment. And this might be a good thing, as the latter often are more interested in cultivating their relations with people in power than reporting the actual news.

Of course, alternative media is sometimes filled with fake news, satire, propaganda, opinions, biased reporting… and often with real, important news and a qualified analysis that doesn’t make it into traditional media.

During the years 2009-14 in the European Parliament, we often used our blogs and social media networks to get the news out: Important news and first-hand information, that was not in any way covered in other media.

This was often met with irritation from the political elite and the bureaucracy – and with a scornful attitude from Big Media. There are always people who, because of various reasons, find frank reports about real matters disturbing.

Somehow, I fear that an elite of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, and media organizations are taking advantage of the fact that there is a certain degree of fake news out there – to smear all new, alternative media.

They simply don’t want others to interfere.

Now we will see Facebook in cooperation with mainstream media start labeling links as »disputed«. Germany might go all Putin and fine those who publish »incorrect« information on the Internet. It is all quite Orwellian. And it opens up for abuse, censorship, and cover-ups.

The media – new or old – rarely gets everything right. Sometimes it gets most things wrong. Usually, it has some sort of agenda. Therefore, its’ analyses should always be questioned. To get a somewhat complete picture – we need to turn to more sources, many different media organizations, and an abundance of disparate voices – not fewer.

The entire discussion over »fake news« might just be tactics in the endless war of power over information, over the agenda. Obviously, the establishment is not amused with the new competition.



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